Should I give him another chance?
August 10, 2010 6:32 AM   Subscribe

Just found out my boyfriend has been cheating on me, multiple times. I decided to give him another chance. What is wrong with me???

My boyfriend and I been together for almost 2.5 yrs. He has been the most loving and caring person, with a big heart, who truly loves me. I have never been so in love before. We've already been talking about moving in together, marriage, and children. All of which he has brought up, and initiated. He's been a huge part of my heart over these past yrs.

And then my world exploded one day, when for some reason my gut feeling was telling me something isn't right, and looking in his text messages and emails, I found out he cheated on me with a girl once when we were already a year together, AND he has been having sex with a married girl, who has an open relationship with her husband (who actually supports this). This been happening occasionally, about twice over the past year, and last time the same day I found out about all this!

No need to mention and heart ache and depression I was going through. But after two weeks I agreed for him to come over and talk about things. Life without him seemed impossible. I was hurting so much, but at the same time missed him like crazy. An emotional disaster, mixed of love and anger. He apologized a million times and said he is going to change cause he can't live without me, and that none of his actions ever meant anything to him. Feeling so weak and alone, I decided to give "us" another chance. I love him so much, still. And he truly loves me and would do anything for me. But can he really change? should I just let this relationship go? is trying to forgive him the biggest mistake of my life?

I really need help with this. Feeling so lost.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (55 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have zero problem with open, honest non-monogamy. This ain't that. If he was a loving and caring person, who truly loved you, he wouldn't be running around behind your back with not one but two other women. That's an awful lot of very intentional deception. Yes, you're emotionally wrecked. Yes, you miss him like crazy. But you can't trust him. And the person you miss - the guy who "truly loves you and would do anything for you?" That guy doesn't exist. He never existed. There is, instead, a similar guy who has no compunctions about lying to you repeatedly. Get rid of him, nurse your broken heart, and find someone worthwhile.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:36 AM on August 10, 2010 [32 favorites]

"And he truly loves me and would do anything for me."

Available evidence strongly suggests otherwise.
posted by tdismukes at 6:45 AM on August 10, 2010 [38 favorites]

Monogamy isn't some sort of moral absolute. None of this means he doesn't love you, nor should it necessarily preclude you from loving him.

However, that also doesn't necessarily make it a good idea to continue your relationship with him, especially if the idea of polyamory is emotionally distressing to you. The fact that one of his escapades involved a couple in an open relationship seems to suggest that he's polyamorous, rather than merely cheating on you.

That said, it may be time for you to move on. You deliberately invaded his privacy, and are displaying contradictory emotions toward a man who hurt you. From what I can read into your word choices, you still love him and require his presence in your life, but also don't forgive him (nor do you seem likely to). That's not a healthy mix.
posted by schmod at 6:45 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry to say move on, but do it, don't reconcile ever, just end it and keep it that way. You'll feel like hell, maybe for a while, but imagine what you'll be going through if you marry, have kids, and he's at it again and again. You would feel way more lost than you do now. Twice over the last year isn't occasional. Please just get out of that.
posted by nj_subgenius at 6:46 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I believe you that he's been a good partner for you, and he may be sincere in his desire to change if that's what he has to do to hold onto you.

But this wasn't an impulsive, "I just got carried away in the moment!" one-night stand with a coworker after an office party (which would have been bad enough.) He did this deliberately, multiple times and likely with no intent to stop, and kept this fact from you until you snooped sufficiently to discover what he'd been up to.

I'm not telling you that you have to break up with him. But if I were you, for the sake of protecting your heart and your best interests, I would assume that he WILL do something like this again, and that you can either decide you're okay with it and have it be an open part of your relationship, or you can live with always wondering if he's honoring the promises he's made...and never feeling completely sure that he is without your being intolerably clingy and controlling of him.

If neither of these options sounds feasible, then I don't think this relationship will ultimately work out for you, and this may be the time to cut your losses.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:46 AM on August 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Dump him. Don't be his doormat. He will continue to lie and cheat, whether with you or the next girl.
posted by gnutron at 6:51 AM on August 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you can't tolerate him playing around with others, it's time to cut loose. He's done it twice? three times? deceiving you all along. Odds are he'll do it again in a moment of weakness. Can you handle it?

If you can handle him playing around with others, read him the fucking riot act about not sharing an important part of his life with you.

Important point: you read his email and texts, presumably without his permission and knowledge. You've violated his trust, too. Some might say this is justified, based on what you found, but what if you'd found nothing? Very icky behaviour on your part.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:52 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's nothing wrong with you. You love him and have invested a lot in him. That's okay.

But just ask yourself if you really think he'll never do it again. Do you even know why he did it? Does he? If he can't explain it, then he doesn't know and it very well may happen again. Do you think he might just do a better job of covering his tracks in the future?

If you can live with the uncertainty, then that's fine. If not, you either break up with him or call a time out and work with a counselor
posted by inturnaround at 6:53 AM on August 10, 2010

Anonymous, you deserve better. This wasn't one mistake - it was a pattern of repeated misbehavior. The only reason he's sorry is that he got caught. Of course it's natural to feel miserable and lonely when you break up with someone you love, and it's totally reasonable to miss him and want what you had back. But ask yourself this seriously - will you ever be able to trust him 100% again? If it were me, I know I couldn't. Do you want to live the rest of your life with suspicion?

My advice: DTMFA - there are plenty of good men out there who will love you and treat your relationship with respect.
posted by marginaliana at 6:54 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's true, some people are just not cut out for monogamy, and your boyfriend is one of them. You should not expect him ever to be faithful to you. However, you do still have a choice, as Narrative Priorities points out. Perhaps you too could be happy in an open relationship. You can have your boyfriend and have other affairs as well, as many as you like. If that sounds appealing then you have to work out an agreement with your boyfriend for an open relationship. If that is not what you want, then you have to end your relationship and find someone else who can give you the monogamous relationship that you want.
posted by grizzled at 6:54 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

If he really is as loving and caring as you say and you really do love him then is sex outside the relationship (not cheating) a dealbreaker? Its possible he can change but I wouldn't count on it - by the sounds of your description this was planned cheating, with plenty of clear-headed time to reconsider as opposed to a drunken one night stand that he's agonised over afterwards.
If you're really in love with him and he meets all your relationship needs you might consider permitting him to pursue safe sex outside the relationship.

At the very least you need to get to the root of why he's cheating - a counsellor might be able to help the two of you explore those reasons and they might help you decide whether you should stay with him. If you are 100% monogamous and can't handle anything else (nothing wrong with that) then you would have to be sure he could change to make the relationship work. eg. if he's just not getting as much sex as he wants - that's something you can both work on together, if he just can't cope with only having sex with 1 person for the rest of his life then it will take a great deal of effort on his part to remain faithful and there's little you can do, he will probably stray again.
posted by missmagenta at 6:55 AM on August 10, 2010

NB: The asker mentioned nothing about lying. He hid something from her, but there's no indication that he was dishonest when confronted.

Yeah, this is really an issue of semantics, but semantics can matter quite a bit in some relationships
posted by schmod at 6:57 AM on August 10, 2010

This isn't polyamory. This is conscious, deliberate deception and betrayal. They are not the same thing.

I've been where you are, many years ago. I didn't end it. I wish I had.
posted by jon1270 at 6:59 AM on August 10, 2010 [13 favorites]

you don't have to make any decisions right now. you've had your legs kicked out from under you. you can do whatever you want. sometimes the last thing we need in moments like this is more upheaval, which is exactly what a breakup would be.

you've had a bunch of trauma dumped on you. be kind to yourself. if taking him back right now feels like the right decision, that is ok. you can always -- ALWAYS -- change your mind later, when you're feeling more clear-headed and less like a total wreck. you'll know soon enough if you want to forgive him, or if you'd be happier without him.

main point being: you don't have to decide anything right now. and be gentle with yourself. there's nothing wrong with you for wanting to forgive someone. that's actually a really nice trait to have.
posted by crawfo at 7:09 AM on August 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

schmod, if you have ever been cheated on over a long period of time, you would know how many lies are always involved, from the smallest lies about "who was that on the phone?" to the largest about "what were you doing last night?"....

There is no issue of semantics here, it doesn't sound like he had much choice but to admit what he had done when faced with the hard evidence. It wasn't like she found something suggestive but not conclusive and he had the opportunity to hedge on it...
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:09 AM on August 10, 2010 [10 favorites]

The only time I have ever witnessed a relationship "bounce back" from a cheating episode is when the cheater confessed - with no provocation - of his own volition (it was a he in this case) what had happened and immediately apologized and vowed to work through his own issues in therapy. In that particular instance, the relationship was otherwise strong enough and he was committed enough to change that they were able to weather it. Also, in that instance, the cheating was a one time deal drunken one night stand, not a pre-meditated side relationship.

I have never in my life seen a situation where someone cheated, got called on it, and then stopped and the relationship went on happily. I'm not saying it couldn't happen, but I'm saying that it just usually doesn't. He hid this from you. You found out by snooping. This indicates that neither of you trusts the other. Not only does he not trust you, and feels free to violate any trust that may or may not exist by cheating on you, but you obviously don't trust him.

A relationship without trust just isn't going to work. Period. Are you going to be able to take his word for it that he's not cheating, when his word has obviously been faulty in the past? (Even if he was only lying by omission, he's obviously been dishonest.) Or, are you going to be going through his emails periodically to see if he's up to it again? If it's the latter, just don't bother reconciling. Get out now. That's not a good road for either one of you to go down.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:12 AM on August 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

There have been many relationships that have survived infidelity. Sometimes it's a wake-up call to both parties.

I'm not saying that everything will be ok here, but I will not join the others who insist that this has to be the end of happiness. I'm also not going to agree that you now have to accept an open relationship. People do stupid things, especially when they're young, and men in particular often just don't and can't understand how much damage cheating can do to a relationship.

If you really love him, and he really loves you, then yes, you guys have a chance. Things will be hard, and there will be lots of future insecurity, but open communication going forward is a must from both sides.

Good luck!
posted by eas98 at 7:17 AM on August 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Anon, of course you're confused. From my own experience, a big part of it is because of this: "He apologized a million times and said he is going to change cause he can't live without me, and that none of his actions ever meant anything to him."

What I mean to say is this: you heard that little voice saying something didn't feel right, your (icky) actions confirmed this, and honestly...your BF gave you the exact response you needed to hear at the time. I'm sure you were pleased (on some level) that he had the decency to apologize and behave contritely. It shows he still cares. You matter to him. That's good.

But I think it makes it a heck of a lot harder and more confusing, doesn't it?

Here's where the outside perspective you're getting here can be of help.

Despite what your BF is saying, you were treated disrespectfully multiple times. Maybe his actions didn't matter to him in the sense that he didn't form emotional attachments to others, but they do matter because he treated you disrespectfully, period. And you can't have stable relationships with people who do things like that, unfortunately.

Nobody deserves that, no matter how wonderful the other parts are. Yes it sucks, but you can and will find someone who doesn't cheat on you.

I'm sorry you're sad. But I think the best thing you can do is move on without him. Make a clean break. Things will get better, but probably not if you continue with this guy.
posted by dzaz at 7:17 AM on August 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

NB: The asker mentioned nothing about lying. He hid something from her, but there's no indication that he was dishonest when confronted.

This isn't just "hiding something from her" - I think for most people, by default, "we're in a relationship" means "we're exclusive." As I said earlier, I have no objection to open relationships and other flavors of non-monogamy; a lot of the healthiest relationships I know are between people who are open in various ways. But clearly the OP expected exclusivity, and clearly her boyfriend knew he was being deceptive by screwing other girls anyway and not telling her. There's "not telling your partner everything," like not mentioning that you got a speeding ticket, and then there's fucking other people behind their back when they expect exclusivity, and I think most people consider the latter to be de facto equivalent to active lying. I certainly do.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:18 AM on August 10, 2010 [10 favorites]

One thing he is going to have to accept if you stay together is that forgiveness and healing takes a lot longer than he may expect. He may grow tired of talking about it, become frustrated with not being trusted, become sick of wallowing in or belaboring the issue -- while you're still sorting out your feelings. He may wonder why his apology, though extracted against his will (ie: being caught at something, instead of coming to you about it himself) isn't good enough, why he has to keep proving himself.

Don't make yourself rush to forgive him, and don't let yourself feel guilt for needing to cope with this at your own pace. These are the consequences of HIS actions, and he needs to be realistic about what it will mean to deal with them together.
posted by hermitosis at 7:26 AM on August 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Sure, you could have an open relationship-- if you were into that, which doesn't seem to be the case. You'd also need a partner who was into that, which requires that he be into consent and communication.

This guy isn't, as he's already demonstrated. The married couple may not know that you didn't agree to any of this, for all any of us know; your SO is apparently willing to say things that are untrue to get his own way.

I suspect the damage has been done here, and that there's not enough trust left for marriage and kids. I also doubt that open relationships would work for you-- your SO is currently not into the level of disclosure they take, and you sound both monogamous and afraid of abandonment. I think poly might make you more miserable in this situation.

There's lots of guys out there who can communicate and be as honest about their lives as you need. You'll need time to recover from this relationship, but it's not the last one you'll ever have.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:33 AM on August 10, 2010

I think a lot of people in your situation attach themselves to the "sunk costs" associated with the relationship -- the time, effort, love, etc, -- that they've already given to this person. Then it becomes easy to convince themselves that they'll never get to this point with anyone else and that it's just easier to stay and try to make it work. It's very difficult for them to cut their losses and move on. It's definitely a business metaphor but let's face it, if this was a business and you found out your partner was working for a competitor without telling you, you'd end the business relationship.
posted by thorny at 7:38 AM on August 10, 2010 [6 favorites]

If you DID want to make it work, then maybe both of you could think through some of the following questions...

What does our relationship give me that I value?
What does our relationship not give me, that I find elsewhere, or I miss out on? Is that bad?
What does monogamy on the other person's part give me that I value?
What am I most afraid of in this situation?
What would my ideal outcome be, if I could summon the Wish Fairy to make it happen?
Why don't we usually talk about these things?
What could we do to try and make sure we talk about what's going on more?
posted by emilyw at 7:44 AM on August 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Nothing's wrong with you. You believe the relationship is good and can be repaired. Anything's possible, but in my experience it can't be. You're going to be suspicious every time he walks out the door, is late, can't be reached, etc. and it's going to kill both of you.
posted by xammerboy at 7:46 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

As you can see from the responses, a lot of people have very firm beliefs about the truth, or otherwise, of "once a cheater, always a cheater", based entirely on their own experience.

I think the main thing this shows is, if you do decide to give him another chance, know that you are setting yourself up for greater pain if it doesn't work out. I'm not saying don't do this — I'm just saying go into it clear-eyed.

Also, remember that a second chance is fundamentally different from a third, fourth, fifth or sixth chance. To allow someone one opportunity to change fundamentally can be fair; to keep allowing them multiple opportunities is usually stupid.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:53 AM on August 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

I went through the same thing with someone a few years ago.
You will do what you want to do.
I remember asking for similiar advice years ago on MetaFilter because I thought someone may have been cheating on me - and all the responses were basically "dump him".

But I didn't. And they were right.

We were together about two years and someone anonymously emailed me about how guilty they felt but that knew my boyfriend had been with his ex multiple times.
This brought up a long conversation with my boyfriend who denied it for hours but then admitted it.
For some reason, I decided to give him a second chance.

But I drove myself nuts because I was so paranoid and checked his computer. The day after we agreed to patch things up, I found out he was on a website for casual sex. So I then created a faked account and started talking to him. He wanted to meet "me" that week and said he would bring a bottle of vodka. I never met up with him, but instead decided that this whole thing was ridiculous and started packing my stuff (I lived at his place - so I ended up living on my uncle's couch).
I never told him what I did- but I hinted - which confused him.

I then assessed the entire relationship in my head. When I added up all the issues and lies, it was really depressing. Here I thought I was in such a great relationship and in love - but looking back - it was kind of a disaster.

So, just don't do this crap to yourself. Don't let him get away with crap like this.
you'll find someone better. I did. It will suck for a bit after you break up - but trust me - teh relationship is now tainted and it will only lead to more paranoia and most likely more cheating.
posted by KogeLiz at 7:53 AM on August 10, 2010 [9 favorites]

Life without him seemed impossible.

I promise you, it is not.

he can't live without me

Ohhhhhh, I think he can.

Step away from this. There's no trust here. And don't move in with him (I can almost hear him now, urging you to take this next step in order to "get past this" and be closer).

There is nothing wrong with you, of course. Like some others have said, it's possible to repair things from something like this, but sadly unlikely. But don't be pressured into forgiving him quickly, rushing deeper into things with him, or forcing yourself to move on before you're ready. Step back and take your sweet time to deal with this.

Hopefully you have other friends in real life who can help you with this. If you don't, I urge you to find some.
posted by Gator at 8:02 AM on August 10, 2010 [7 favorites]

Sexual fidelity isn't that important to me (although honesty is), and so take my advice with that in mind.

What has happened is a betrayal, you don't deserve it, and I'm really sorry that this has happened to you. It must feel like your life has been turned upside down.

If you can somewhat cheerfully have an open relationship with him, there is nothing wrong with you for forgiving him and getting back together with him. We forgive the people we love for all kinds of things and, in the grand scheme of things, having sex with other people is bad, but not anywhere near as bad as it could be.

It's up to you how you balance what he did with the excellent partner he has been otherwise, and I don't think there is any kind of black and white "he cheated! you have to leave!" easy decision to make here.

That said, just because you might miss him or being unable to imagine life without him, does not mean that the partnership is a good one. A lot of that is just that you're used to him and your brain gets certain happy chemicals from being around him. That doesn't mean that the relationship is good, it just means that it is.

If you will never be happy with an open relationship, I suspect that this relationship will be uncomfortable for both of you in the long run. The fact that he already knows people in open relationships and has exposure to those ideas, and his lack of sexual fidelity in the past, all point to him eventually having a "Surprise! I have discovered that I'm polyamorous!" moment in the future. Maybe even soon, now that this has happened. I think that it's a gross way to justify past infidelities. On the other hand, if he genuinely doesn't want to be in a monogamous relationship, polyamory will start to look mighty appealing about now.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:19 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

The fact that one of his escapades involved a couple in an open relationship seems to suggest that he's polyamorous, rather than merely cheating on you.

The fact that all of his escapades involved hiding what he was doing seems to suggest that he's cheating on you, rather than polyamorous.
posted by EtzHadaat at 8:22 AM on August 10, 2010 [27 favorites]

It's ok and normal to not just instantly fall out of love with someone you've loved for so long, it's also ok to acknowledge your feelings but choose to love yourself more, and make the decisions which will allow you to do that. Look after yourself, this is a really tough thing to go through. Be strong!
posted by Chrysalis at 8:28 AM on August 10, 2010

If you had a daughter that was going through this, what advice would you give her?
posted by jmmpangaea at 8:49 AM on August 10, 2010 [7 favorites]

Posting even though it's all been said so well, just because I feel strongly about it...

But can he really change?

Theoretically, yes, he can. People change. But not because other people change them. You cannot change him. Will he change? Probably not, but definitely not if you take him back. It's really hard to change, and why should he make the effort if his current behavior has no consequences?

Should I just let this relationship go?

I am so, so sorry, and no one here underestimates the pain it will cause. But yes, you should. Pain now or more pain later are the choices I see here. He doesn't want polyamory. He wants to cheat. He's not going to stop wanting that.

Is trying to forgive him the biggest mistake of my life?

No. You should forgive him, when you're ready, for your own sake. Forgiveness is more importantly an act of loving kindness to yourself than to the transgressor. But forgiving him doesn't mean sharing your life with him, now that you can see who he is and what that life will be like.

What is wrong with me???

There is nothing wrong with you. Your heart is broken. It will heal. You're a good person. You'll get through this and be happy again, without him. Listen to all those here who are calling back to you from the other side, and have faith. And please let us know what you do.
posted by Betsy Vane at 9:01 AM on August 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Monogamy isn't some sort of moral absolute. None of this means he doesn't love you, nor should it necessarily preclude you from loving him.

But a partner who cannot keep promises is someone to be ditched. It hurts, its hard, but you have to let go and suffer too. But its better later.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:08 AM on August 10, 2010

Look, whether or not he is polyamorous* or a big ol' cheater** is irrelevant.

So some people stumble upon polyamory after they already make commitments, and maybe some people end up being unfaithful because they just suck at monogamy. Those people can end up in happier and healthier once they discover polyamory/non-monogamy and start dealing with their shit in an honest and proactive way.

I feel for these people who keep fucking things up and don't know what's going wrong or how to fix it. Really. I think it can be really tragic. This guy, however, has at least some exposure to the concepts. His involvement with someone in an honest open relationship seems to indicate that it he knows there is an honest way to get what he wants/needs.

So, OP, if he makes any kind of "I just discovered this!" or "I had no other option but to sleep with other people because I'm polyamorous and it's an orientation!", call bullshit. He knows there is another option, he just chose not to take it for whatever reason. Fear of rejection, the inconvenience of getting your permission, he just gets off on cheating, who knows.

*as an orientation, as a personality trait, as the result of being bitten by a radioactive me from an alternate universe. My personal feeling about it is that people range from polyamorous to polyamory friendly to monogamist, with most people being closer to the monogamy end of things, but more people being poly friendly than one might think.

**or both! it happens!

posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:18 AM on August 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Uck. Well, having been through this myself, I'm telling you to drop him. I went through every thought that you are having -- all the reasons to forgive him, all the self-blaming, all the ridiculous shit that we imagine that makes it our fault instead of his...

And it basically wasted 10 years of my life, as he cheated on me over and over and exposed me to STDs (some of which of I got, and -- at the time -- STILL didn't understand what was going on). Get tested. Make him use condoms, seriously.

I found my ideal man after I was brave enough to leave my loser, and now I can't believe I was such an utter chump. One of the first things I told my my new (too-amazingly-gorgeous-and-perfect) guy was that I was only interested in a monogamous relationship, and that if he didn't think he could do that, that we weren't going to work out. He told me that he was going to tell me the same thing. We've been together for 20 years now.
posted by taz at 9:20 AM on August 10, 2010 [9 favorites]

For the love of god, keep walking and don't look back. If he cheated once he is going to cheat again. That's who he is and you cannot change him. You deserve so much better. How can you trust him ever again? I know it hurts so bad but time will take care of everything. Seriously, cheating with a merried woman? Who does that!!!!
posted by simba at 9:27 AM on August 10, 2010

Unless one of you is incapacitated and isolated to the point that one literally relies on the other for nutrition and oxygen, you can live without each other. So stop framing your situation or his in those terms. It's just smearing another layer of drama on this thing, when you should be striving for a little rationality.

Breaking up with someone is painful. The pain is not an indicator that you are doing the wrong thing. It just means that change is hard and it sucks when things are hard but sometimes the right thing is not the easy thing. The pain will go away after a while if you let it, which means more than two weeks.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:49 AM on August 10, 2010

First of all, get tested. Stop what you are doing right now, go to the doctor, and get tested. Don't think "oh he wouldn't do that," don't talk to him about it, go to the doctor RIGHT NOW.

Please do not have sex with him until you have had time to think. And if you do, act like you are starting all over again in terms of safe sex, because you are. He should also get tested and be willing to discuss his safe sex practices with these other women openly with you. If he won't or he won't, DTMFA on the spot, because now he's putting your health in danger. (Forget AIDS, we're talking the whole gamut of other gynecological infections you could have.)

Now, forgiveness. If you can forgive him that is actually great. That has nothing to do with whether or not you decide to continue to be in a relationship with him. I do not believe that he loves you & would do anything for you. He is saying what he thinks you want to hear that will cause you to not break up with him. He is sleeping with three women and that is awesome, why wouldn't he want to keep that deal going.

This is not polyamory, just because one of the women he is doing on the side is in an "open relationship". This is a serial cheater. This isn't "I got drunk and ran into my old ex and it just happened and I haven't talked to her since and I regret every second of it". This is big-time infidelity. The fact that he's doing it with a woman in an open relationship doesn't somehow validate it.

Here's what I think:
--He will keep cheating
--He will probably keep sleeping with these women even if he tells you he's not
--You will continue to be suspicious, you will find proof again, you will go through him telling you that he loves you & would do anything for you, you will take him back, he will keep cheating

There are a whole host of circumstances under which the relationship would be salvageable. None of them are present here. But you will probably take him back anyway, because if you were clear, you wouldn't be here.
posted by micawber at 9:54 AM on August 10, 2010 [6 favorites]

It is really hard to break up with someone you are in love with, no matter what they do. Especially when you have mapped out this whole future life in your head, which means you would not only have to let go of the last threads of your current comfortable and happy life, but also eliminate the possibility of all those things you were looking forward to.

I think you are probably going to swallow this pill and stay with him, and I completely, completely understand this.

I would bet everything I have on your boyfriend continuing to be shady, and continuing to lie to you. I would bet that he was lying to you even while admitting some of his prior lies. I would also bet that at times he will display emotion and he will cry, and he will be very convincing. And I bet that as time goes by, more and more "off" things about him will be revealed, that aren't directly related to this.

I think it's entirely possible that he does love you and does do caring things for you, to an extent. But I think that he has no conscience when it comes to lying and cheating. And probably about a bunch of other things to, but definitely no conscience about lying and cheating. He has no internal safety mechanism stopping him from doing these things, he doesn't feel guilty or really consider it to be wrong when he does it. I think that the ONLY thing that would stop him is external consequences. If he can lie well enough, he can avoid those.

I think you will finally break up when he has done this so many times, and you have wasted so much of your life being nervous, worried, stomach-sick, suspicious, spying, reading texts, checking up on him, that your emotional feelings for him are just dead. I think that you will probably get to that point. If you deliberately work on it, I think you can get there faster if you try.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:15 AM on August 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't believe that this is unforgivable. I, personally, think that nearly anything can be worked out. . . if BOTH people work on it. So! If you do take him back and give your relationship another chance, don't do it without really doing your own work to think about what it will take to make you able to trust him again. Do you need him to go to counseling? With you, on his own? Do you need him to participate in a 12-step program, or give you free access to his email, or whatever?

Figure out what it is you'll need to be comfortable, and make it a condition of reconciliation. And if he balks. . . then walk. Because it's easy to say "I'll do anything to be with you," but harder to actually, you know, clean up your own shit. And even if he initially agrees but then, say, keeps putting off calling the pastor or finding a shrink or what have you, hold firm and walk. If he is really serious about cleaning up his act, he'll be motivated to do the hard work.
posted by KathrynT at 10:20 AM on August 10, 2010

Your boyfriend has exhibited a pattern that involves lying and multiple partners.

I'm sorry.

This is cheating. It has nothing to do with polyamory. It is sad people keep bringing that up here. It has nothing to do with your situation.

Likewise, I'm unclear how you know for sure the married girl is in an open relationship? It sounds like something your ex said to make that particular transgression seem less awful... I would doubt that statement from him...


The thrill for your guy was going behind your back to have sex with other people. That's his "thing." Monogamy or Honesty? Not so much.

His new thrill will be to "up the ante" by winning you back, and then finding new and even sneakier ways to cheat. Do you have an attractive and maybe slightly jealous friend or sister? Someone he can cheat with right under your nose? That's likely his next move.

He will not change. The lies will get harder to spot for a little while. He will cheat because it's thrilling and sexy (in his mind) to have illicit sex. Next time, it will be someone closer to your social circle. I can practically guarantee it.

How do I know this? Because I had a front row seat for many years on a situation exactly like this.


I think it's OK if you try to forgive him. Sometimes that is the only way to learn. Please remember what we've said and keep your eyes open into the future.

Also, get tested for STD's regularly from now on.
posted by jbenben at 12:10 PM on August 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

To answer your question...

There is nothing wrong with you. It's just super hard to flip a switch when you love someone.

When they betray you enough, it sinks in.

Next time you'll be wiser.
posted by jbenben at 12:14 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

First off, "can he change?" Sure, but without knowing the guy, nobody can say whether he will or not. And right now even you yourself probably don't feel like you know him as well as you thought you did, and certainly not well enough to know whether forgiving him is a huge mistake or not.

I can tell you that if you continue the relationship, you have an obligation to yourself to make sure that he really is changing. And that's going to take more than just his assertion that he really wants to. It's going to take more or less absolute transparency on his part for several years to come. A betrayal like this is a traumatic event, and you should expect at least around 3 - 5 years to go by before you'll start to feel more or less recovered from the shock. During that time, he'd better be prepared to volunteer every damn thing about his daily life to you before it dawns on you to wonder about whether he's hiding something or not. His email accounts, he text messages, his cell phone billing records and credit card statements...all of that should be an open book, something you can look any time you want to. If he's serious about changing, he should understand that your trust is broken, and that the only way to secure against doubt is to make sure that doubt is not possible. If you know everything that he knows, there's no space for a lie to be hidden in.

As well, he better demonstrate a willingness to listen to you everytime something happens to make you feel another dose of the pain, or the anger, or the mistrust, or the sorrow that this will continue to bring up from time to time, until you're recovered from the injury and trust can start to be built up again. When something hurts very badly, you won't feel it all at once, and so it you'll feel it a bit at a time, over a long interval. Some of those times will be pretty inconvenient for you and him both, but he'd better make sure that sitting with you while you feel it, or leaving you alone while you feel it, or owning his responsibility for causing it, whatever response it is that you may need from him at that moment, is absolutely the first thing on his priority list. And make sure that anything he has to say on this subject is a long long LONG way away from making you repsonsible for the choices he made. And if he can't be patient with continuing to explicitly take responsibility for the mistake each and every time the subject comes up, even years after the fact, that he's insufficiently committed to changing, and you need to walk away.
posted by Ipsifendus at 12:19 PM on August 10, 2010

You're getting both "dump him" and "fix it" answers here. We can all offer our opinions, and those who have experienced this situation can offer their personal anecdotes, but none of us can know 100% what is true between you and your partner. Relationships are complex enough from the inside; they're nearly impossible to understand from the outside.

When a question of this ilk comes up on the green, my default answer, as dull and clichéd as it might seem, is "get therapy." A mediator will help immensely as you try to work this out together. Ask him if he is willing to go to couples' therapy, and then go, if he is. If he is not willing, then you have your answer.

I wish you success in whatever happens next.
posted by tzikeh at 1:27 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nothing is wrong with you, and forgiveness is not necessarily the wrong path. However, it would probably be a good idea for the two of you to enter couples counseling so that you both can discuss what happened, how you and he each feel about you forgiving him, and your entirely natural and understandable fear that it's going to happen again. I have personal experience with this issue; feel free to MeMail me if you'd like more specific advice.
posted by epj at 2:05 PM on August 10, 2010

Breakups hurt a lot, but eventually you'll get over it. It's better than being betrayed over and over again. People almost never change when it comes to character issues, and definitely without an incentive to do so.

If you stay with him, he will continue to cheat on you, because he knows you'll put up with it. He has also shown you that he has poor character, so you can expect him to do other bad and dishonest things to you in the future. Is that the kind of relationship you want, the kind of person you want to be with?
posted by Jacqueline at 4:08 PM on August 10, 2010

You know he is a cheater.
You know you can't trust him.
You know your relationship is doomed.

The only thing that's wrong with you is that you're human, which means you're having trouble accepting things you don't want to accept. But, really, you know. Come on now. Be honest with yourself. You know.

When you're ready to dump him, DO IT. The sooner, the better. In the meantime, you'd be downright stupid to have unprotected sex with him. Stuuuuuuuuuuuuupid. Don't do it.

"But can he really change?"

Why would he change? He didn't stop cheating on you because he wanted to. He stopped because he got caught. And, again, let's be honest here. He probably didn't really stop.

If he truly felt the way you think he feels about you, would he have been cheating on you? If he truly felt the way you think he feels about you, would he really want to hurt you? If he truly felt the way you think he feels about you, would he really be doing things he KNOWS would hurt you behind your back?

The only thing that's wrong with you is that you're human, which means you're having trouble accepting things you don't want to accept. That's why you're still with him.

Best of luck.
posted by 2oh1 at 4:10 PM on August 10, 2010

I can't tell you what to do, but think about this: the married woman that he's sleeping with? He obviously set this up. Met her, liked her, decided to have sex with her. And then, he did it again. This isn't a crime of passion, this is a hookup that happened multiple times. It's the very definition of cheating. If you can be ok with that, it's up to you, but don't fool yourself into believing it was a once in a lifetime deal, because this is a pattern of behavior that he's followed for a while.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:04 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry, OP, this is just awful.

You're probably going to fixate for a long time on figuring out what kind of person he is. You may never figure it out. But know this: there is no good explanation for what he did to you. He engaged in extensive patterns of serious deception over long periods of time. Whatever else he is, he is a cheater. He may be a cheater who feels love for you and cares for you in many ways, or he may be a cheater who has absolutely no conscience and feels for no-one but himself.

If I thought it made a difference which he was, I'd say so. Unfortunately I don't think it does.

I stop short of telling you to leave. It's your life, and you have all the information. For example, you picked up enough of what was going on around you to investigate (and 'icky' as it may have been, you can't make a legal move when the system is in an illegal state). You will also be able to pick up on whether what comes next is the real him or a lie. The trouble is that you are very likely to lie to yourself too. So be careful. Careful as in, get tested for everything and don't even think about unprotected sex. Build up your autonomy so that even you can't deny that you are able to live without him, even though you don't want to.

Most of all, observe and remember everything, because you need to know what a serious betrayer looks like. Later in life, you will have moments where you ask yourself, "where have I felt this feeling before?" and you'll remember this even though the situations appear different, and you'll know how to protect yourself.

I'm sorry for you. It's wrong that this has been done to you.
posted by tel3path at 5:49 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Joining the chorus for "no, this is not going to work."

I think one thing that makes this hard is, you feel the decision is all on you -- your decision about whether this relationship continues or not, all the weight of that decision on your shoulders for you to agonize about what to do.

How much time did he spend making the same decision?

For more than half your relationship (that you know of), he woke up every morning with a possibility to come clean with you. He chose not to. Many days, he chatted up other women and found his way into their beds. Did he agonize over that? Cry? Debate with himself? Weigh the pros and cons? At 1.5 years of cheating, that's almost 550 consecutive days of not being honest, not caring about your feelings, not caring about the relationship.
posted by Houstonian at 6:06 PM on August 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's true, some people are just not cut out for monogamy, and your boyfriend is one of them. You should not expect him ever to be faithful to you. However, you do still have a choice, as Narrative Priorities points out. Perhaps you too could be happy in an open relationship.

Perhaps she could, but that would be with another man, one who doesn't lie for years about the status of the relationship, because being a lying cheater has nothing to do with managing any healthy relationship. It's unfortunate that's sane poly advocates keep beng swamped by this sort of evangelical nonsense.

Poster, unless you sell organs harvested from orphans, you deserve better.
posted by rodgerd at 2:38 AM on August 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

It's true, some people are just not cut out for monogamy, and your boyfriend is one of them. You should not expect him ever to be faithful to you. However, you do still have a choice, as Narrative Priorities points out. Perhaps you too could be happy in an open relationship.

I'm not polyamorous and I would be unlikely to be in a relationship with someone who was, because I'm just not wired that way, it would make me feel paranoid and low, and it would probably make the partner feel guilty, and both of us would be happier with people with similar proclivities. Advice like that is a bit like saying 'Some people are just not cut out for atheism...Perhaps you too could be happy being a Christian.' You either are or you aren't.

But polyamory isn't the issue - the poly people I know are honest and have boundaries which everyone is comfortable with. No lying.
posted by mippy at 7:45 AM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

But can he really change?

Probably not, but you never know.

should I just let this relationship go?


is trying to forgive him the biggest mistake of my life?

Maybe? I don't think there is any point holding a grudge, but there is a difference between forgiving him and moving on, and forgiving him and getting back together. Getting back together seems all kinds of stupid. I think generally you should avoid relationships with people who lie to you for most of your relationship.
posted by chunking express at 10:25 AM on August 11, 2010

If you don't find out why he did in the first place there's every chance of it happening again.
posted by browolf at 3:43 PM on August 11, 2010

Hello, OP. Be gentle on yourself. Your brain and emotions are in shock because you have just discovered you were in a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde relationship.

Like Jekyll, the boyfriend that you know is genuinely in love with and excited about you. You feel very respected and worshipped by him. You are ready to plan your life with him. You may never seem to have a terrible, near-breakup type of argument, and take that as a sign of good relationship health. You feel unstoppable with him by your side.

And all this time, you never knew he came with Mr. Hyde.

Hyde embodies your boyfriend's insecurities and dishonesty. Hyde is how your boyfriend handles [particularly emotional] conflicts he is unsure how to resolve. It's arguably not healthy and "not right," but it's also his choice. That means it's his baggage. That means it IS him, and not you. It's his sh*t and he needs to deal with it.

If you had known of Hyde during your relationship, it would have completely colored your perception of Jekyll. You would have never developed an image of big-hearted, truly loving Jekyll had Hyde been honestly presented from the start. Instead you were fed the best side of a person for 2.5 years, over which you invested your hopes and dreams, only to be given the news now. It's a terrifying, earth-rupturing shock on the heart and soul. You will never get those years back. You will never get that innocence back. Even worse, you're facing a huge negative return on your investment in this person... if breakup ensues, it is unlikely (even with time and healing) that you will be able to remain friends.

Until your brain sorts through these feelings (mourning for Jekyll and anger for Hyde), you will continue to feel the terrible sundering void of heartache. Your brain will keep wanting to run both ways (back to Jekyll and away from Hyde). Your heart will continue to bombard you with mixed messages as it reacts to two different personas in one person. This would be more than just a regular mindf*ck for anybody.

So be easy on yourself, OP. Give your mind and body some time to finish processing this shock. Surround yourself with good friends. And then, when you're emotionally recharged, see if/how you want to re-assess from there. There's no need to make a decision NOW, so be easy on yourself.
posted by human ecologist at 7:53 PM on August 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

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